How to Build a Software Developer Talent Pipeline

Hiring developers is a lot like sales: You must build and engage a pipeline of qualified candidates to accelerate time-to-hire. Some hiring companies are using voluntary coding challenges to do just that.

When was the last time you bought a product or a service as a result of a cold-call from a salesperson? In the digital age, it's far easier to make a sale when potential customers are already familiar with and engaged with your company and the products and services you offer. The same goes for hiring software developers.

Software Developer Talent

Building a sales pipeline of potential customers can help ensure greater success in closing deals and driving new business, and the same goes when you're looking to hire elite software developers and programmers, says Vivek Ravisankar, founder and CEO of HackerRank.

"Hiring developers is a lot like sales in that you have to build a pipeline to close 'deals,'" Ravisankar says. "Sure, you can go to a recruiter right now and have them do 'cold calls' to developers, but what you don't know is are they decent? Do their values and talent align with your company? Are they invested in your company's success as well as their own? That's hard to discern," he says.

How to Measure Developer Aptitude and Attitude

Dan Pollock, senior vice president at Modis, an IT staffing and recruiting services firm, say aptitude and attitude are two of the most difficult attributes to screen when hiring developers, especially when balancing the need to move quickly when hiring.

[Related: How to Use Agile Development to Avoid Project Failures]

"Companies have to move quickly to avoid losing candidates in the hiring life cycle. The general rule of thumb is for every week past the fourth week, 20 percent of the initial candidate pool will have accepted another position," Pollock says.

Because developers often have numerous offers on the table, you have to move quickly and aggressively to secure top developer talent, he says. "We are not talking in terms of months or weeks -- it's more like days and hours," says Pollock, if companies want to bring elite developer talent on board.

[Related: Top 10 Programming Skills That Will Get You Hired ]

You can use online technical tests in the beginning of the qualification process to determine if a candidate should be brought onsite for an interview, says Pollock, and many companies already have developers fix broken code or "whiteboard out" a solution to a problem, in real time, with the interview team, he says.

However, an online test and whiteboarding alone cannot determine a developers abilities, and many times, the best developers won't respond to cold calls from recruiters or hiring managers, especially if they're not familiar with your company.

"The best and truest test is to have a developer candidate sit with a current developer at the company and work alongside this person for two to four hours," says Pollock.

"In this type of peer partnering scenario they are solving problems together, and the candidate can walk the company's developer through the steps they would take if employed to tackle the current challenges the company is facing. Essentially it is the equivalent to a real-time, live, developer role play," he says.

[Related: CIOs Lure Top Tech Talent by Offering Free Lunch]

Enticing Elite Developers to Show Off Their Skills

The peer-partnering scenario assumes that the developer candidate is already engaged in the hiring and screening process, Ravisankar says. HackerRank was born to address a problem he saw all too often when hiring developers for Amazon -- how to automate and accelerate the skills screening process even before the interview process begins, and to identify and attract elite developers before they even know they want to work for a company, he says.

In his role at Amazon, Ravisankar says he'd spend hours conducting phone interviews -- many of them cold-calls -- only to discover that approximately seven out of 10 potential candidates' skills just didn't match up with organizational needs.

What Ravisankar says he needed was a way to get talented, elite developers interested in companies voluntarily and give them a medium to showcase their skills before the hiring process began.

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"I wanted to find a way to develop interest and engagement with companies and to build a meritocratic recruiting process. But the differentiator is that the choice would be theirs because they enjoy coding and want to prove they're the best of the best," Ravisankar says.

HackerRank works with hiring companies to develop and advertise coding challenges and attract developers to solve these coding problems. In return, programmers can indicate whether or not they'd be open to recruitment opportunities with the hiring companies, says Ravisankar.

While HackerRank isn't officially a candidate sourcing tool, Ravisankar says companies are effectively using the platform to attract high-caliber developers and programmers that are actively engaged with the developer community and who want to work for their company, he says.

Challenging for Developers, Effective for Hiring Manages

"There are many developer communities around that offer these kinds of challenges -- like GitHub, StackOverflow, and others," Ravisankar says. "Our differentiator is that we offer the opportunity for a 'Phase 2' that could lead to these developers being hired," he says.

To that end, HackerRank offers tools for hiring companies to design and developer coding challenges specific to their domain expertise. For instance, a major online payments company might develop a challenge that could test applicants' skills and knowledge as it related to finance, security and compliance. Or, he says, a security firm might want to post a challenge relating to intrusion prevention or intrusion detection to ensure potential hires were well-versed in security.

Developer Skills

"Every feature, every challenge that goes on the site is thoroughly vetted, too," says Ravisankar. "This ensures that programmers enjoy what they're doing and that the challenges will represent the level of skills, knowledge and expertise needed to work at the hiring company," he says.

HackerRank's code challenges also include a built-in code checker and a QA screening process to make sure developers' code is functional, clean and follows best practices, he says.

HackerRank also has a full suite of analytics and reporting tools for both developers and hiring managers, Ravisankar says. It provides consistent interviewing tools to ensure there's common ground and that all candidates are being judged on the same criteria.

Developers Call the Shots

"The key to all of this is that it's voluntary," Ravisankar says. "The choice is with the developers -- if they enjoy coding, if they want to prove their skills and knowledge to others in the community. This is a way for them to do that while having the added benefit of making themselves available to potential employers, if they wish," he says. "And that works great for hiring companies, too, because they're building a developer pipeline. You can see that person's code, see their abilities, and that can speed up time-to-hire," he says.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at sflorentine@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

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